Chives are the most versatile of herbs. They’ll grow in just about any climate and, with their upright leaves, can fit themselves into quite compact spots. For example, chives make a tidy edging along garden beds.
Onion chives are the most popular. Their 30cm-tall clumps of narrow, tubular leaves die back during winter in cold climates and re-shoot in spring. In warmer climates, they stay in full leaf all year round.
The purple flower heads of onion chives not only look attractive in the garden, they can be picked and used as a garnish or for adding colour to a salad. But it’s the leaves, with their gentle onion flavour, that are most widely used. They’re an ideal solution for anyone who finds the taste of bulb-forming onions too strong.
Garlic chives have a slightly broader, flatter leaf. They grow a bit taller and have white, rather than purple, flowers. Their flavour is said to be more garlicky, although this difference is so subtle it can be hard to detect.
Another chives option is the chives look-alike, society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea). Its leaves are said to have a garlic taste that doesn’t cause offensive breath odours, hence the ‘society’ in its common name.
Chives are reputed to stimulate the appetite and help in the digestion of fatty foods. They’re rich in iron and it’s claimed they can lower blood pressure. Chives ‘tea’ produces a spray that repels aphids and controls some fungal diseases in the garden. The spray is easy to make: just pour boiling water over chopped chives (approximately 1 cup to 1 litre), allow to cool and use on the same day.
Growing new chives
Chives grow readily from seed. While it’s still a little early in most parts to sow them in the open garden, they can be started off in pots now and kept in a warm, sheltered spot (even on an indoor windowsill) until the end of the cold weather. They can then be transplanted into the garden or outdoor pots. Yates has both varieties – traditional and garlic – in its seed range and both packets recommend planting chives with fruit trees and roses to keep pests away.
Another way of propagating chives is to divide the established clumps into smaller sections and re-plant these in the garden. Chives flourish in pots, which means you can have some growing right outside the kitchen door.
Before planting, dig some Dynamic Lifter pellets into the soil and feed every few weeks through the growing season with nitrogen-rich Thrive Soluble All Purpose Plant Food. Control thrips and mites with Yates non-toxic Natrasoap, and snails and slugs by sprinkling Blitzem or Baysol pellets.
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